Management lessons from a shepherd

“A shepherd?” you ask. “Really.”


Well, Don hasn’t been a shepherd his whole life. Just the last 15 years. Before that he was a manager at IBM. He learned a lot about managing over 30 years. Now he applies some of his lessons to shepherding.

Like what?

He has two herding dogs, Mac and Ollie, both Border Collies. Both pretty good herders. They are well trained, although Ollie, the older one, can be stubborn. He doesn’t always do what Don wants him to do. And Don, after all, is the alpha.

Sometimes they are doing a herding demonstration and the dogs are running to the side and front of the herd, as they should. Then Don signals for Ollie to come to the back, but he doesn’t. Don starts cursing something like “stupid dog” just like he’d start to do when one of his staff didn’t do what he’d directed.

But as he watched more closely, he saw that Ollie was doing exactly what he should be doing to manage the herd properly. Ollie saw something that Don couldn’t from his position.

Don’s lesson: Trust your staff. They sometimes see things that you don’t.

He said he’d learned this as an IBM manager, but he doesn’t always remember to apply it to his current team — of sheep dogs.

Are there lessons you’ve learned in management from unusual sources? If so, share them with us.

1 thought on “Management lessons from a shepherd”

  1. Great story of how we learn from others.

    I wonder if the greatest learning here might be that Don trusted himself to stop and recognize there was something else going on out there.

    It was how I learned… trust myself first and then trusting others opened my eyes to what was really happening around me. It is a challenge for the new managers that I coach on a regular basis.

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